I’ve mentioned here repeatedly that I’m a fan of video poker, but what about video blackjack?
I prefer video blackjack to slot machines, and you should, too.
But video blackjack never really caught on in brick and mortar casinos in the same way that video poker did.
Now, of course, with the rise of online casinos, most internet blackjack games are video blackjack games by default, albeit with a few differences.
In this post, I look at the pros and cons of both video blackjack and live dealer blackjack.
Video Blackjack Is Powered by a Random Number Generator
Any time you play video blackjack – or any other gambling machine, really – the results are determined by a computer program called a random number generator (RNG for short).
Even slot machines use an RNG to determine outcomes.
But with a legitimate video blackjack or video poker game, the random number generator is programmed to offer the same odds as you’d see in a deck of cards. This has serious implications for how these games work when contrasted with how slot machines work.
For one thing, you can calculate the probabilities of specific outcomes.
We know that you’ll be dealt a natural – a 2-card hand totaling 21 – about once out of every 21 hands. That number doesn’t change in video blackjack because the probabilities are the same.
But in terms of contrasting that with a slot machine, well you can’t predict anything related to a slot machine. You have no way of knowing how the symbols are weighted when it comes to the probability that they’ll show up on a given spin.
You Can Use Basic Strategy on a Video Blackjack Machine
If the random number generator duplicates the same probabilities you’d see from a deck of cards, this implies that basic strategy and card counting will also work on a video blackjack machine.
What’s basic strategy?
It’s just the play in every situation you could face in real money blackjack that has the highest mathematically expected return. For example, you always stand on a total of 19 or 20. That’s an example of a basic strategy rule.
Basic strategy usually comes in the form of a color-coded chart. It works no matter what to minimize the house edge for the game of blackjack.
Counting cards is just a way of tracking the approximate ratio of high cards to low cards left in the deck. When there are more high cards in the deck – aces and 10s – you have a higher probability of getting dealt a natural. Since that pays off at 3 to 2 instead of even money, you bet more in those situations and get an edge over the casino.
But card counting only works on SOME video blackjack games. In fact, it doesn’t work on most video blackjack games. The next section explains why.
Video Blackjack Game Conditions
Every blackjack game has its own set of game conditions. This is even true of live dealer games. For example, some games are dealt from 8 decks of cards that are all shuffled together, while other games are dealt from a single deck.
In some blackjack games, the dealer stands on any 17 or higher, but in other games, the dealer hits a soft total of 17.
(A soft total is a hand with an ace that might count as 11 or 1, depending on the other cards in your hand. It’s called “soft” because if you get a high card that would otherwise bust, you can just count the ace as 1 instead of 11.)
Most video blackjack games are single deck games – which is advantageous to the player.
But most video blackjack games also shuffle the deck after every hand. This means that counting cards is impossible. Once you reshuffle the deck, the count starts over at 0, so you never have the opportunity to raise the size of your bets.
Lower Stakes and Even Money Payouts for Blackjack
Some of the other game conditions include the stakes. At any live dealer blackjack table, you’ll have betting minimums and betting limits – the least and most that you’re allowed to bet on a hand. Generally, the better the game conditions, the higher the minimum bet is.
One advantage video blackjack has over live dealer blackjack is the potentially lower stakes games. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a live blackjack game with a minimum bet of less than $5 or $10, but you can find video blackjack games you can play for a quarter or a dollar per hand.
The trade-off is that such games usually only pay even money on a blackjack instead of paying off at the standard 3 to 2. This has a dramatic effect on the house edge for the game.
If you’re playing with perfect basic strategy, most blackjack games have a house edge of between 0.5% and 1%.
When you change the payout for a blackjack (a natural) from 3 to 2 to even money, you add over 2.2% to the house edge.
What’s the house edge?
It’s the statistically predicted amount you’ll lose from every bet you place on a blackjack game. It’s based on the difference between the payouts and the odds of winning.
Even the Worst Video Blackjack Game Is Still Better than Slots
The house edge for slot machines generally start at 6% or so and go up from there. If you’re an average slot machine player, you’re probably making 500 bets per hour. If you’re playing for 75 cents per spin, you’re putting 500 X $0.75, or $375, into action every hour.
Your expected loss on that kind of action is 6% of $375, or $22.50.
Let’s contrast that with the expected loss on a video blackjack game with an even money payout for a natural. Assume that this game has a house edge of 3%. If you place the same number of bets per hour at the same stakes at video blackjack, your expected loss per hour is only $11.25.
And those are conservative estimates.
Many slot machines have a much higher house edge than just 6%. The 6% figure is optimistic. Some games have a house edge of 12% or more.
If you must choose between video blackjack and slot machines, always go with slot machines instead.
Video Blackjack or Video Poker
Should you play video blackjack over video poker?
It depends on the pay tables.
Many video poker pay tables offer a low house edge – less than 1.5%.
But other video poker pay tables have a house edge of 3% or more.
If you’re serious about gambling machines, you’ll learn the differences between the video poker pay tables for the various games. You’ll also spend some time learning how to scout for the best video poker pay tables.
Even then, you must play with close to optimal strategy to achieve the low house edge at video poker.
If you’ve master basic strategy in blackjack but not video poker strategy, you’re better off playing video blackjack.
But it’s worth your while to learn video poker strategy, too. You never know when you’re going to find a full pay Jacks or Better video poker game where the house edge is only 0.46%.
It’s a shame to be unable to take advantage of that just because you didn’t spend the time you should have learning how to play video poker.
Online Video Blackjack versus Online Live Dealer Blackjack
When it comes to online blackjack games, the vast majority of these games are video blackjack games by default. Unlike the video blackjack games you’ll find in traditional brick and mortar casinos, though, online video blackjack tries hard to duplicate live blackjack at a table.
You can find online blackjack games that duplicate almost any variety of blackjack you can imagine, including games like Double Exposure and Blackjack Switch. These games usually have the same minimums you’d find at table-based blackjack games in a live casino.
More recently, online casinos have started rolling out blackjack games using live dealers. They use webcam technology to provide these games, and the dealers can even chat with you during the games. One might think that since they’re dealing cards from a real deck you could count cards in live dealer blackjack games online.
You can’t. Every live dealer blackjack game I’ve seen online used a continuous shuffling machine, so it’s impossible to get an edge counting cards in online blackjack – even in the live dealer games.
Which game should you choose?
Mostly it depends on your individual preference. I prefer being able to get in a lot of hands per hour, so I usually opt for the online video blackjack games. I don’t care much about ogling the pretty girls who are dealing the live blackjack games.
Your priorities might differ, and that’s fine.
Gambling is a hobby. Do what you enjoy.
Video blackjack is both less different and more different from live dealer blackjack than some people think. If you’re looking for an alternative to slot machines, video blackjack is a legitimate choice.
But if you’re looking for a version of blackjack that competes with live blackjack at a table with a dealer, you might steer clear of video blackjack.
Michael Stevens has been researching and writing topics involving the gambling industry for well over a decade now and is considered an expert on all things casino and sports betting. Michael has been writing for GamblingSites.org since early 2016. …